A private practice (in 5 easy steps)

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

Henry David Thoreau

Sounds to good to be true?  Maybe but read on.  If you’re looking for a blog about why you shouldn’t start a private practice, this isn’t it!  I’ve been in private practice my entire music therapy career (15 yrs) and I am here to say that it is very rewarding, but also very frustrating and challenging at times.  So what are some of the lessons I’ve learned – now that is something I can blog about!

1.  Things they don’t teach you in school

If you are considering private practice, be prepared for a steep learning curve!  You can’t possibly imagine what it means to be a) music therapist, b) secretary, c) promotions manager, d) accountant, e) researcher, f) innovator, all at the same time.  Perhaps that’s why they don’t teach it during your training to be a music therapist.  It also means that you can become burned-out very easily. 

Lesson One:  Get a mentor who is willing to help you through the hi’s and low’s of starting and maintaining your business.

2.  Be prepared for a time lapse between starting and “succeeding”

We all go into private practice thinking – “this is going to be the greatest private practice ever!”.  Then, inevitably, things take “longer than expected” to occur costing you time, energy (both physical and mental), and especially finances.  You will try to convince yourself that, “if I just do _________” my business will take off.  That is not to say that the opposite is true either, a “If I build it they will come and I have to do nothing” type of mentality.  A book called Rework, that I’ve discussed in a previous post, suggests that you not view your business as a “start-up” but rather, you should view it as a business.  Start-ups frequently come and go, but a business continues to evolve, building on each success along the way.

Lesson Two:  Expect to spend at least 8-12 months getting growing your business, measure “success” not just in $$$ terms, but also in terms of “Was I able to give my client my 100% attention and effort?” or “What have I done well, this week, based on feedback from clients?”

3.  Educate don’t flaggelate!

We can all learn ways to improve our business skills.  Indeed, there are literally thousands of books promising us that, “Just do _______” and your business will succeed.  However, reading all of those books will not make you a better business person.  Instead, focus on what you know best and be realistic about what you don’t know.

This might mean that you save and use your limited “extra” income to attend a national or regional music therapy conference rather than a local trade show.  Why?  Attending the trade show may give you exposure however it will also mean that most of your time will be spent explaining “What is music therapy?”, obtaining very few new clients in the process.   By attending a music therapy conference you will most likely come back refreshed, because everyone there understands what is meant by the term “music therapy”, and full of new ideas that you can use to improve or expand your business.  Use information sheets and business cards in your waiting room (if you decide to have one) to attract new clients using your existing clients as witnesses to the great services you provide.

If you already know that you hate working with figures and accounting, then maybe it is worth the money for you to hire an accountant, and prevent yourself from spending countless frustrating hours working on the business records yourself.    There are a thousand little details that must be taken into account when beginning, and a thousand more needed to maintain your financial records.   Indeed, setting up your business records incorrectly or missing a step can mean many, many hours spent later at tax time and possibly lead to fines or worse!

Lesson Three:  Choose your educational opportunities carefully and selectively, focusing on what you know best – music therapy.

4.  Don’t be a lone wolf.

Improving your business can be an all consuming affair, that isolates you from friends and family and things that you love to do.  eYes, you can dedicate more time to expanding your business when you are single without family or a spouse but that doesn’t mean you should.  Plan a little “down time” into a day full of back-to-back music therapy sessions.  Spend some of your hard earned cash to attend a musical concert or go to a favorite place that allows you to nuture your soul, rather than expend it.  Believe me, the time and money spent will be well worth it!

Likewise, don’t be afraid to “reach out and touch” other music therapists!  (e.g.  Consultation and Supervision Services by Key Changes Music Therapy) Aside from aforementioned conferences, the internet and technology allow us to communicate with a huge base of support and experience.  There are many music therapists that have stood where you are now.  Connect with fellow music therapists on services such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  Use Skype (or another similar service) to talk to a colleague rather than racking up huge phone bills.  You don’t have to spend a fortune on software either – use low or free alternatives to commercial programs such as Microsoft office (e.g.  OpenOffice or Google Docs).  Follow and comment on the postings of other music therapists’ blogs and/or begin your own blog using a tool like WordPress, a FREE and customizable way to communicate and share with colleagues and potential clients.  By doing so, you will develop your own followers who “seek you out” rather than “you seeking them out”!

Lesson FourIsolating yourself is a recipe for disaster.  You need the support of friends and colleagues to suceed.

5.  Accept that you will make mistakes and face disappointments.

Even the most seasoned, most knowledgeable, business tycoon will make a mistake sooner or later.  Just ask Microsoft!  Beginning a business, as an unseasoned veteran, will mean that mistakes will not only happen, they will happen more quickly!  You are going to make mistakes!  Likewise, you are going to face disappointments, some of which are out of your control (e.g.  Sad News for EMT) .  However, just like the stock market, where individuals know that some of the best investment opportunities come when the market is crashing, view your business as a long-term venture.  That way, a mistake made or disappointment experienced can be viewed as a “bump in the road” rather than the “only bridge over the valley collapsing”.

Lesson Five:  I repeat – You are going to be mistakes!  Face them, learn from them, and move on!

Finally, to continue the “Too good to be true” analogy, keep reading and I’ll include some FREE business advice  (from some music therapists that have been there! )

Free advice (in no particular order)

How to use your fear – Key Changes Music Therapy

Building Your Personal Brand – Listen, Learn, Music

Silencing Your Inner Critic – Mundana Music Therapy

Introduction to Conga Technique and Play – Music Therapy Drumming (To work out those frustrations after a hard day at work!)

The Therapy Business Blueprint (eBook) – Music Therapy Maven

Music Therapist for the Music Therapist – Music Therapy Musings

Music Therapy and Advocacy (Podcast) - Music Therapy Research Blog

And of course, don’t forget to follow MusicTherapy365

SPECIAL NOTE:  My apologies in advance to fellow music therapy colleagues and music therapy bloggers who weren’t mentioned in this article or “Free advice” section.

Feel free to leave your comments and business ideas.  I’d love to hear them!

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6 Comments

Filed under Business Tools, Conferences, Music Therapy, Organizations, PR/Advertising

6 responses to “A private practice (in 5 easy steps)

  1. This just in – more FREE advice!
    Tips for Self-Care While Serving A Client – Rhythm for Good.

    http://www.rhythmforgood.com/2010/08/tips-for-self-care-while-serving-a-client/

  2. awesome, thank you! I glean advice like this from anywhere I can get it. Having been a music educator for 15 years, I’m trying to switch my business model to include (as much as possible, with all legalities thoroughly investigated) MT practice. My hope is to get it “runnin’-like-a-top” so that when I get my MT-BC (this time next year), I can simply jump right in with my private practice… ha! We shall see…. one can hope, right? :)

  3. Great advice! I just opened my practice 2 months ago and have found it challenging — explaining over and over again about music therapy in a city with no other practicing MTs. Keep those good ideas and encouragement coming!

  4. Hi, John! I’m so glad to find your blog tonight! I am not a music therapist but I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in Colorado (USA). Half my practice is traditional cousneling and psychotherapy. The other half of my practice is coaching and consulting with other mental health professionals on how to build a private practice.

    I love the list that you have provided here! It’s all so important. However, I want to also encourage music therapists to also broaden their networking to include mental health professionals beyond music therapy . . . and beyond the creative arts. We who are not music therapists have much to learn from you guys and also much to share – not the least of which is our respective networks! By networking both within and beyond our original disciplines, we are broadening the scope of resources that our clients can benefit from and that our practices can grow from!

    I am looking forward to following you on twitter and will be back to visit your blog! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!

  5. Here a link to an article about several solutions to the challenges of accounting and small business. http://www.launchpadonline.com/blog/?p=3070

  6. It is my dream to someday run my own private practice as an LCSW, and I would love to incorporate music therapy into the CBT approach. I look forward to reading and learning more! Great blog, thank you!

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